Dale Watson to Finally Play Austin City Limits
37 years ago, Austin City Limits was founded to be the visual accompaniment to a book called The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock by Texas author Jan Reed. The book set out to chronicle the formation of the Austin, TX music scene that transpired in the late 60’s and into the 70’s, along with its many artists and side characters.
As time went on and it became evident that what was happening in Austin wasn’t just a “scene,” but one of America’s most important and influential movements in music, Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus was commandeered to help capture these amazing artists in their own time in hopes of further preserving the legacy of Austin’s musical heritage. The tapings were shown on the local PBS affiliate KLRU, and as interest in the Austin City Limits program expanded, eventually it began to be broadcast nationwide.
Over the years ACL branched out to include many national acts, but up until recently, the program rarely strayed from their duties of preserving the legacy of Austin music, and stuck mostly to the country and roots realm. During the early 2000’s, “Austin City Limits” began to be seen as a powerful, nationally-recognized music brand despite its not-for-profit, PBS roots, and ACL launched a big music festival and began bringing in larger, non roots acts for show tapings—artists and bands that didn’t need the ACL boost, and didn’t have ties to Austin like Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Cheap Trick, and Coldplay—while some artists seminal to the Austin music scene seemed to be ignored.
ACL brought on big corporate sponsors like Budweiser, Lexus, and Dell Computers. During their 30th season, they axed their long-running theme song: Gary P. Nunn’s “London Homesick Blues.” They also moved out of the small studio on the UT campus into a multi million-dollar facility in downtown Austin, complete with luxury boxes for the show’s corporate donors and Austin’s power elite. ACL Fest is now a two weekend festival, rivaling in size, revenue, and attendance any of the massive corporate music festivals around the country.
But continuing on the 2013 theme of positivity, Austin City Limits has decided to finally give a taping to arguably one of the most important performers in Austin’s current country scene, Dale Watson. On November 25th, ACL will bring in what they call “Austin’s king of country music” in a show that will also include fast-rising country star and native Texan Kacey Musgraves.
Over the last few years, Dale Watson has become synonymous with Austin music, playing multiple gigs a week when in town at some of Austin’s most legendary venues and honky tonks like The Broken Spoke, The Continental Club, and Ginny’s Little Longhorn that Dale Watson recently paid to keep open. But the Austin City Limits invite always alluded him except for a small appearance on a songwriter showcase, despite being an obvious pick for a featured artist on the show. A Facebook page was even started over the issue. Just like another Texas legend, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dale made his initial network television debut this year not on the Austin City Limits stage, but some 1,800 miles away in New York City on the Late Show with David Letterman (though Hubbard did appear as Hayes Carll’s guest once on ACL), showing just how juxtaposed the television outlets for country and roots music have become.
Recently another roots show that still caters to up-and-coming acts called Music City Roots, located at The Loveless Cafe in Nashville announced they will begin to be broadcast through PBS stations. A lot of the same spirit that initially surrounded Austin City Limits seems to be embodied in what Music City Roots is trying to build today.
Without question Austin City Limits still, and has always showcased excellent country and roots talent from Austin and beyond, regardless of the big, international names they may court in any given broadcast season. But doesn’t it always seem the way of things—when something gets swept up in growing, they lose their focus, and the heart and spirit of where they started. But just like Old Crow Medicine Show being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry, or Dale Watson’s ACL show mate Kacey Musgraves getting nominated for as many CMA Awards as anyone this year, 2013 has been a year full of re-trenchings, of re-affirmations and reflections on what is important in roots music, and making sure what is most important is being preserved and pushed forward by entities not always known for doing so.
To artists from Texas and beyond, the Austin City Limits stage is a hallowed as any. Kudos to ACL for finally giving Dale Watson his due. Now if we could just get Ray Wylie Hubbard….
October 10, 2013 @ 11:41 am
ACL is spotty at its very best these days.
And it has been for a long time.
The audience is so muted that it seems more like a piano recital than an exhibition of roots music.
Most CDs of ACL performances are similarly dreary, while most Live at Billy Bob’s CDs showcase authentic country music with energy and with artistic enthusiasm.
I didn’t understand why ACL abandoned its historic facility to go to a new and better one.
Silly me for not thinking that it was money.
The presences of big money seems to destroy the quality of a lot of things it uses as vehicles to make more (e.g. college football, the banking industry, NASCAR racing (before teams, the Chase, the divestiture of the sport’s Southeastern roots)).
TX Music Jim
October 10, 2013 @ 11:50 am
ACL is what it is these days and for the most part It flat sucks. However, God bless them for doing something good and letting the undisputed king of Austin, Texas Dale Watson have his turn on the stage. God Bless dale for keeping the honkiest tonkiest beer joint in town Ginny’s Little Longhorn afloat as well.
October 10, 2013 @ 12:03 pm
This is great news! I’m so happy for Dale. It’s about time he played it!
October 10, 2013 @ 12:05 pm
I watched the livestream of Jason Isbell’s performance on ACL this summer and it was amazing. As far as I know, the broadcast hasn’t aired yet–maybe this is another sign they are turning things around.
October 10, 2013 @ 12:21 pm
YESSIR!!!! Cannot wait for this one-two punch of an ACL session. It’s gotten, lately, to the point to where I don’t really care if I’m out on Saturday night and miss an episode. It used to be quite the opposite. The last one I saw that really suited me was Gillian Welch’s last ACL session, and damn, that was what, two years ago?
As a sidenote, I wish that someday New West could release on DVD all the classic episodes from the 70s and 80s of Willie, Townes, Kristofferson, Willis Alan, etc., etc. I’ve emailed them many times on this subject, but never got any sort of reply. One of my sources who has inside info said most of those episodes are hung up in legal quagmires, but that was a few years ago that I’d heard that. Wonder what the story is now and if they’re any closer to reissuing those episodes. I would love to have all of ’em to watch alongside my Johnny Cash and Steve Earle classic ACL episodes. Oh yeah, and the notorious Kinky Friedman episode that was never aired…I’d LOVE to see that’n, too!
October 10, 2013 @ 7:55 pm
Actually, this will be Dale’s second time on ACL.
He did a package show with Don Walser, Wayne Hancock, and Libby Bosworth in ’96 at the old studio.
As far as ACL in the present day goes…
I feel like they’ve completely lost sight of why they began in the first place.
Much like SXSW, the festival brings in a lot of money for Austin. But at what cost for local businesses?
My friend runs a small food court all year round just three blocks from where ACL is held. He has built his business around food and local bands playing at his venue. One works hand in hand with the other. As of last Friday, the city of Austin, through “selective enforcement” (bullying), pulled the plug on music at his place by citing a lack of permits that he’s never needed before the festival and the threat of fines. The end result?
At least six bands where cancelled over the two weekends and it has killed his business. To make matters worse music will still be suspended long after the festival has packed up and left. Here’s a link to a story YNN did on Sunday about it.
October 10, 2013 @ 9:11 pm
Really sad to hear about this, but unfortunately I am not surprised. There is a reason Austin is slowly losing its identity as the “Live Music Capital” and why the epicenter of independent music has shifted to Nashville. As the money moves in, the music has to move out. Austin’s traditional entertainment zones are being encroached by high density housing, which forces live venues out due to zoning changes and noise complaints.
Austin’s food court culture is a whole other issue. The most famous food court on South Congress recently got shut down to start construction on condos. Right now in Austin, money is winning, and its culture is losing. It’s a real shame.
ray wylie hubbard
October 11, 2013 @ 9:57 am
hey thanks for the support. at some point in the past i suppose i pissed off the acl gods who make that decision and have been wandering round fighting cyclops and sirens and storms and suitors for mother hubbard’s hand..(i kinna live in my own dark kingdom it would seem). maybe i’ll get there someday. thanks. appreciate it. rwh
October 14, 2013 @ 9:12 pm
Glad to see Dale Watson get some long over due acknowledgement! I was tickled to death to hear he landed the gig on Letterman because Dave heard his song on the radio(prolly XM). I agree with Chris on the release of some DVD’s of Austin City Limits Shows there has been a few of them I would like to see again at my own leisure. tHANKS for the GREAT NEWS Triggerman!